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From AJR,   June/July 2012  issue

Everybody Does It   

Fareed Zakaria’s lame attempt to defend his practice of borrowing quotes from other sources and using them as if they were his own. Tues., August 14, 2012.


By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      

Note: The Washington Post on August 15 ran this correction: "This story incorrectly states that in his 2008 book, 'The Post-American World,' Fareed Zakaria failed to cite the source of a quotation taken from another book. In fact, Zakaria did credit the other work, by Clyde V. Prestowitz. Endnotes crediting Prestowitz were contained in hardcover and paperback editions of Zakaria's book. The Post should have examined copies of the books and should not have published the article. We regret the error and apologize to Fareed Zakaria." AJR also apologizes to Zakaria for passing on this inaccurate information. However, Editor Rem Rieder continues to have problems with Zakaria's defense of using quotes without attributing them.

For a very bright man, this isn't very smart.

Fareed Zakaria at first responded in a quite straightforward way when he was hit with plagiarism charges, apologizing for borrowing paragraphs from a Jill Lepore article in The New Yorker for a column about gun laws in Time magazine.

But as more evidence of misconduct by the Time and CNN journalist has surfaced, he has gone deep into a defensive crouch. And that is not helping his cause, not a little bit.

The Washington Post's Paul Farhi reported Monday that in a 2008 book, "The Post-American World," Zakaria had used a quote by former Intel chief executive Andy Grove without disclosing that he had gotten it from an earlier book by former Commerce Department official Clyde Prestowitz.

Prestowitz says he alerted Zakaria to the quote theft at the time but received no response.  Zakaria ultimately acknowledged the source of the quote in an expanded version of the book last year.

Zakaria told Farhi that he had used many quotes from other sources in his book without mentioning that they had come from elsewhere. That's OK in a book aimed at a popular audience rather than an academic one, he explained. Then he latched on to the ever-popular "everybody does it" defense: "Please look at other books in this genre and you will notice that I'm following standard practice."

And then Zakaria went all whiny: "I should not be judged by a standard that's not applied to everyone else. People are piling on with every grudge or vendetta. The charge is totally bogus."

Zakaria may be right that this type of quote-lifting goes on all too often. But it hardly makes it right. It's completely misleading to use a quote in a way that suggests that you got it yourself when in fact you took it from someone else.  

Zakaria told Farhi that attribution would "interrupt the flow." Well, too bad. What's more important, the flow or the truth?

Zakaria also didn't cover himself with glory in an exchange with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic. Back in 2009, Zakaria wrote a cover story for Newsweek about Iran. It included a couple of quotes that sounded familiar to Goldberg, as they should have, since they came from pieces he had written. But again, there was no hint of that from Zakaria. They appeared in the Newsweek article as if they had come from interviews conducted by Zakaria himself.

Goldberg, who posted that he believes "quote-lifting, or quote-theft, is widely considered to be a journalistic sin," contacted Zakaria at the time, but like Prestowitz received no reply. Today, in an e-mail to Goldberg quoted in Goldberg's post, Zakaria also defended the practice. "I think it is quite untrue that it is standard journalistic practice to name the interviewer when quoting from an interview," he wrote.

To prove his point, Zakaria went on to say that often his Sunday CNN interviews are mentioned in the media, in numerous instances with no mention that the material came from an interview with him on CNN.

Back in whiny mode, he concluded, "[I]t's unfair to castigate me for doing something that is common, if not standard, practice."

Well, I'm not at all sure it is standard practice. I see many instances where the source of a quote is mentioned. More important, it's not a good way of doing business. If it's anyone's policy, it should stop, right now. As Goldberg posted, "there should be more fastidiousness on this question, not less."

And perhaps the good that might emerge from this episode is a vigorous emphasis on saying where material comes from, and on never using someone else's material as if it were your own.